Updated 2:20 p.m. June 24, 2014, with comment from Whole Foods.

Whole Foods will pay nearly $800,000 to settle allegations of overcharging customers, prosecutors in San Diego, Los Angeles and Santa Monica said.

According to prosecutors, the case began with a statewide investigation by state and county inspectors. They looked hard at the salad and hot bars in stores.

The investigation found issues such as:

  • stores failing to deduct the weight of containers when charging for items at self-serve salad and hot bars;
  • overstating the weight of products sold by the pound,
  • and selling some items by the piece instead of by the pound as required by law.
Whole Foods. Photo credit: WholeFoods.com

According to prosecutors, Whole Foods will also appoint a pair of “state coordinators” to oversee pricing accuracy at stores throughout the state and designate an employee at each site to ensure compliance.

The chain also will conduct random audits at stores four times per year.

The settlement agreement, which covers all 74 Whole Foods markets in the state, was filed in Santa Monica Superior Court and will remain in effect for five years.

“Our citizens need to have confidence when they shop that the price advertised is the one that is charged,” San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said Tuesday. “Civil law enforcement actions like this are important to ensure businesses deal fairly with their customers and compete fairly in the marketplace.”

Whole Foods spokeswoman Marci Frumkin said the company “takes our obligations to our customers very seriously.”

“We cooperated with the city attorneys throughout the process, and based on a review of our own records and a sampling of inspection reports from various city and county inspectors throughout California, our pricing on weighed and measured items was accurate 98 percent of the time,” she said. “While we realize that human error is always possible, we will continue to refine and implement additional processes to minimize such errors going forward.”

Weights and measures officials inspected 69 stores in 19 counties where multiple violations were found to be ongoing. The prosecutors alleged those actions violated consumer protection laws prohibiting false advertising and unfair competition.

In San Diego County, Whole Foods operates outlets in Del Mar, Encinitas, Hillcrest and La Jolla.

– City News Service

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